Review: Digging to America – Anne Tyler

I am a great fan of Anne Tyler and love her characterisation and her meandering story-lines.  While I would not say Digging to America is her best novel, it is still worth reading, although frankly, nothing much happens in it.  The novel follows the course over six or seven years of two families, both of whom adopt a Korean baby.

The families meet once a year for an “Arrival Party” which celebrates the day they were united with their babies at Baltimore airport.  One of the families is typically American, with all its sentimentality and its big-hearted generosity.  The other family is Iranian and keeps alive the traditions of their home-land through many extended family feasts and celebrations.  In typical Tyler-fashion, we see the changes brought to both families by their encounters at various social gatherings, and we see how changes over the years affect them both deeply.  I appreciated the depiction of Maryam and Dave, bereaved grand-parents who dance around each other despite their obvious incompatibilities. Strangely, the Korean infants are not the most important part of the story-line, but more a catalyst for other encounters among the adults.

As always, Tyler hits the emotional buttons, and some scenes are touching beyond the reach of other authors.  I particularly enjoyed the attempts of one mother to wean her second adopted child away from a baby’s dummy (pacifier), by setting up an elaborate party during which the dummies were to be launched off into the blue tied to helium balloons, with a hilarious outcome, also rich with pathos.

Tyler’s characters breathe humanity, whether the good sides or the bad, and it is her non-judgemental acceptance of people’s failings and foibles which characterise this and all her novels. I suppose after her previous novel, The Amateur Marriage, this book is a little more light-weight, but for Tyler fans, it still delivers the home-spun Baltimore family experience which beguiled so many readers of her previous books.

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